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Stark Realities

P.R. Chari

By Updesh Kumar & Manas K. Mandal
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2012, pp. xxiv 444, Rs. 850.00


Terrorism has traditionally presented states with a major security challenge. After 9/11, however, governments have become totally focused on this threat to national security for what they fear most is terrorist violence designed to achieve clearly defined political objectives like independence from central authority. Most local grievances, incidentally, have their roots in injustices by the state like denial of autonomy, insensitive or corrupt governance, suppression of dissent and so on. And, the time-honoured strategy adopted by national governments to deal with estranged groups is to isolate them politically, and neutralize them at leisure by a judicial mix of military and conciliatory means.   The rise of religious terrorism has however added greatly to the complexities of pursuing an effective counter-terrorism strategy. Dealing with groups fired by extreme fundamentalist beliefs is problematic. Some groups like the Aum Shinrikyo, for instance, are imbued with apocalyptic beliefs that they must destroy the world before building it anew in their image. Other groups like the Al Qaeda believe they have a sacred mission to spread Islam and wish to proselytize by persuasion, if possible, but by violence, if required. Clearly, such terrorist groups are beyond the pale of logical discourse. Their ubiquitous presence, however, makes it incumbent on those countering terrorism to understand the psychological and sociological influences underlying the behaviour of terrorists.   The book being reviewed here interrogates this ‘psychosocial’ aspect of terrorism and seeks to discuss this interplay between the psychological and social dimensions of terrorist behaviour. The book has 18 chapters by Indian authors and several from abroad, coming from diverse backgrounds, which provides a catholic remit to this study. The chapters are clustered within two sections. The first ‘Understanding Terrorism: Psychosocial Issues’ has nine chapters that ‘delineate the nature of the acts of terror and the actors involved therein.’ The second, ‘Countering Terrorism: Psychosocial Avenues’ addresses preventive measures to defeat terrorism. The joint editors are serving officials located in the Defense Institute of Psychological Research that functions under the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization.   Proceeding further, the ‘psycho-socio-cultural dynamics’ of terrorism are described in the essays of the first section. Attention has been drawn to psychological ailments or Post Traumatic Stress Disorders that afflict the victims of terrorism and the larger community in which they live (Mark Duchesne). In ‘The Behavioral Profile of a Terrorist: Theoretical and Empirical Observations’ the co-authors Daniel Antonius, Mandi L. White-Ajmani, and Joseph Charap (New York University) ...

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